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2nd Conn. home invasion trial begins, defense says suspect didn't want woman, 2 girls to die
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) ' The trial of a Connecticut man charged with killing a woman and her two daughters during a gruesome home invasion opened Monday with a defense attorney telling the jury that the evidence will "shake your very confidence in humanity" but blaming his co-defendant for the slayings.
Joshua Komisarjevsky, 31, faces a possible death sentence if convicted. His co-defendant, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death last year.
Komisarjevsky did not intend to kill the three, said his attorney, Walter Bansley.
"The evidence you are about to hear will shake your very confidence in humanity," Bansley said. "The deaths that occurred were senseless, unnecessary and tragic."
Komisarjevsky wore a short haircut and a dark blue suit for the first day of the trial, which is expected to last up to three months. The sole survivor, Dr. William Petit, sat in the front row with family members.
Authorities say Komisarjevsky and Hayes, two paroled burglars, broke into a Cheshire home in July 2007, beat William Petit and tied up his wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and the couple's daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley. Hayes forced Hawke-Petit to withdraw money from a bank before he raped and strangled her in the family's home.
The girls, who had pillowcases placed over their heads, died of smoke inhalation after the house was doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Petit was also tied up but managed to escape to a neighbor's house to get help.
Thomas Wright, a Cheshire police officer, testified he found Petit with a large head injury in his neighbor's driveway.
"His shirt was extremely bloody," Wright said.
Petit told the officer that his family was still in the house. Wright said he then heard a commotion and saw the men fleeing in the family's car, forcing two other officers to dive out of the way.
Wright said he saw flames coming from the house. He and another officer went into the house, shouting for any survivors, but couldn't get far due to the fire and thick black smoke.
"The floor was burning, the walls appeared to be burning," Wright said.
As prosecutors showed a photo of the house in flames, a male juror cupped his face with his hand.
Under cross examination, Wright said police had been told not to approach the house. He also said there was some confusion on the police radio.
A bank teller, Mary Lyons, testified that Hawke-Petit was amazingly calm when Hayes took her to the bank to withdraw money.
"To me, she was trying to get done what she was sent into the bank to get done, so she could return to her family," she said.
She said that the intruders had apparently already gone through Hawke-Petit's wallet and when she opened it to look for identification, the only things inside were some pictures of her daughters.
Bansley admitted that it was Komisarjevsky who spotted Hawke-Petit and Michaela at a supermarket, followed them home and later returned to the house with Hayes to break in to get money. He admitted Komisarjevsky beat Petit with a baseball bat and tied up the family and that Komisarjevsky masturbated in Michaela's presence.
But he said the evidence shows Hayes raped and strangled Hawke-Petit, got the gasoline, poured it around the house and lit the fire.
Bansley said Hayes was worried about the DNA he left at the scene and told Komisarjevsky they would have to burn the house down and kill the family. He said Komisarjevsky was "stunned" and quoted from his confession to police that he told Hayes, "I'm not killing anyone. No one is dying by my hand today."
Bansley portrayed Komisarjevsky as panicked and indecisive, claiming he suffers from "cognitive difficulties" that makes him unable to make quick decisions in stressful situations.
During Hayes' trial, the defense blamed Komisarjevsky for escalating the violence and portrayed Komisarjevsky as the mastermind of the crime. They said Komisarjevsky had a long history of residential break-ins, attacked Petit with a bat, molested Michaela and pressured Hayes to sexually assault Hawke-Petit.
Prosecutors have repeatedly said both men were equally responsible for the crime.
On Monday, prosecutor Michael Dearington addressed the jury for only a few minutes, explaining the charges and the tragic nature of the crime.
Jeremiah Donovan, Komisarjevsky's attorney, noted Petit family supporters were wearing pins in memory of the victims. The defense has expressed concerns about such displays, saying they endanger their client's right to a fair trial, but the judge has allowed them.
Donovan called the supporters "the Petit posse," sparking a prosecutor's objection.
Petit, who is expected to take the stand Tuesday, said outside of court that his family would stick together.